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Cuban wrestler set new record with fifth Pan Am Games gold medal

Cuba’s Mijain Lopez, 36, won a record fifth Pan-Am Games gold medal in men’s freestyle at 286 pounds. He is aiming for a fourth Olympic gold medal next summer. (Photo Juan Carlos Guzmán Negrini / Lima 2019)

Lima News Service

LIMA, Peru, August 8 — Cuba’s Mijain Lopez was targeting more than just gold at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games. He is aiming to leave a legacy that will inspire a generation.

The 36-year-old Greco-Roman wrestler, who is known as ‘El Nino’ (the child) in his native Cuba, came to the games here in Peru as a three-time Olympic champion and four-time Pan American Games champion. But he has his sights set on so much more than merely adding to his medal collection.

“I’ve come to Lima to make history,” he said. “Even though I have already achieved that with the results I have obtained, now I want to go even further.

“I want to leave a precedent so that any young person that will come after me takes me as an example and sets even greater goals that might be distant, but possible.”

The 6-foot-4 Cuban giant, who weighs 264 pounds, made his Pan American Games debut at Santo Domingo in 2003, winning gold, and he repeated that achievement at Rio in 2007, Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011 and Toronto, Canada in 2015.

Lopez left the Pan-Am Games with a record fifth gold medal after beating Venezuela’s Moises Perez, 9-0 in the final at 130 kilograms (286 pounds). It put Lopez past fellow Cuban Greco-Roman greats Hector Milian and Juan Luis Maren, as well as female judoka (judo) Driulis Gonzalez, who all won four Pan American Games golds before retiring.

Lopez went 3-0 in the tournament, beating Argentina’s Luciano Del Rio, 4-3 in the first round and outlasting Chile’s Yasmani Acosta in the semifinals, 4-0.

Looking beyond Lima, the next challenge for Lopez is a fourth Olympic gold, having finished first at Beijing (2008), London (2012) and Rio (2016), matching the feat of Cuban boxing legend Teofilo Stevensen, who won gold medals in Munich (1972), Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980).

A victory in Tokyo next year would also take him beyond Russian Aleksandr Kareline, who was a three-time Greco-Roman Olympic champion at Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996).

“I want to keep fighting for my country, my flag, my family and my team-mates. I still feel that I have chances to continue winning and, with God’s help, I’m going to be able to achieve it,” Lopez said.

“The main strength I have is the desire to train every day. If an athlete wakes up and doesn’t want to train, he won’t achieve any of his goals and is close to his retirement,” Lopez said.

“There are moments when you feel tired, but that is the time when you have to emphasize your goals and think that you can always achieve more things,” he said.

Despite his continued drive for glory, however, Lopez is well aware he cannot go on forever and admits to having thoughts of retirement.

“Tokyo would be my fifth Olympic Games and I don’t think I’ll reach the sixth one, but we’re going to leave it in God’s hands,” he said.

“After my participation in Tokyo, I want to rest. I’m fighting for more than 25 years. A break of one or two years would be good for me. After that period, I will decide if I will retire definitively,” Lopez said.

If he does bow out, Lopez will leave a giant hole in the sport… in more ways than one.

 

Connecticut Wrestling Online has been covering the sport of wrestling in Connecticut and New England since 2001.

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